New York

Rod Rhodes

Monique Knowlton Gallery

It is rare that architecture as subject matter moves and incites. This is not because people are so unflappable; most contemporary architecture is an endurance test for architect and public, and it is difficult to find inspiration in drudgery. At a time when so many buildings fail us all, Rod Rhodes’ mysterious and disturbing constructions remind us of the imaginative, inventive, erotic, and agitating potential of architectural spaces. Although he chooses to work in condensed scale, the metaphorical content of his work is undiminished. His pieces state very succinctly that architecture has promises to keep and enigmas to shelter and contain.

This exhibition placed three white models, all lit from within, in a darkened gallery. They appeared as glowing totems, suggesting ancestral stories and hallucinatory visions. Each model sits on a solid pedestal nearly five feet high, and is encased in an impenetrable, shatterproof glass bonnet. A psychological distance is instantly enforced. Vision into catacombs of interior space is manipulated, modulated, and at times stymied, permitting only fragmented glimpses of a world of personal symbol, media compulsion, sexual bondage and ecstasy, and weird juxtaposition. Unwitting, we are placed in the position of voyeurs/intruders, a position that heightens the quiet drama of these eerie spaces and narratives.

The models, all from Rhodes’ “House of the Deer” series, insert a primal mythology into spartan rooms of video monitors, “work stations,” and unmitigated sterility. In House of the Deer—Segment V, 1984, the heavy, rusticated, rectangular lower story of a two-story construction is broken by two broad archways on each long side and one’ arch on each short side. Inside, this lower level is bisected by a wall which divides it into two similar, officelike spaces appointed with computer and video monitors depicting sequences of sexual bondage and exploitation. The second level is brilliantly lit, but visual access is largely impeded by opaque screens placed within the arches. Narrow, vertical viewing spaces on the short sides frame deer heads mounted on these screens, and some kind of mysterious totemic device rises above them from within. The disquieting combination of technology and ritual suggests that modern communication media and architecture cannot assume a posture of neutrality toward, or be impervious to, history and culture.

House of the Deer—Segment VI, 1984, permits us to be voyeurs of public as well as private space. This is a complex construction, its soft adobelike forms enclosing an open upper courtyard containing remnants and residue of ritual performances. On a lower level is a room with computers and a large, wall-mounted screen picturing a deer head overlaid with a grid and target. Below this again, a maze of catacombs bathed in pink light contains vessels, urns, antlers, and other treasures.

These precise, eloquently constructed models suggest an order and mastery of the world, yet closer scrutiny reveals spaces informed by psychosexual drives, technological excess, and nightmarish rituals. Architecture must generate some sense of wonder in order to compel and incite, and Rhodes ensures that our collusion in his work is intense and problematic. Good architecture is sublime, yet this power is not an equation for or a justification of oppression. We should take heed that Rhodes’ foreboding visions are not unchallenged predictions.